“How we made an award winning short film about Henry VIII”
Part of a blog series about ‘I am Henry,’ the new novel and award-winning short film of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, by Jan Hendrik Verstaten & Massimo Barbato.
When I set out to write a screenplay for a short film, it wasn’t my plan for it to be about the infamous Tudor monarch. All I envisioned was a middle-aged man in an empty white room.
While I sat down behind the computer, I felt a man’s presence. He seemed eager to engage with me even though he did not say a word, but just stood there in silence. I wondered if this was Henry VIII who had just died, and who had not fully grasped, yet, what that meant.
“I never set out to write about Henry VIII”
I was not convinced I wanted to write his story, and the approach to use a historic character, and certainly one that is so prominent in the history of England, was quite daunting to be honest. I am Dutch, and I doubted very much if I could do it. One thing that did interest me was his tragic relationship with Anne Boleyn, his second wife. This could possibly be the focus of the story, and I decided I wanted to know more about it.
Interesting coincidences occurred during the writing process
I started with Henry’s love letters to Anne. After that I read the account of Master Kingston about Anne’s tragic final visit to the Tower, and her execution. I also watched several documentaries and searched the internet for anything I could find about them.
Apart from this, my main method of preparation remained how I ‘sensed’ him, Anne Boleyn and later also Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. I tried as much as possible to allow them to be themselves. This led to interesting coincidences. For instance, I was not aware Catherine had written a letter in which she claimed that her ‘dead’ children were with her. A fact that I sensed and used in the film, only to discover afterwards, from a Tudor expert, that she had mentioned this herself in real life.
The script went through several drafts and Massimo was the very first person who gave his feedback. At the time, I also worked with script editor and author Lucy Hay who I respect a lot. Her feedback surprised me. “At its heart, the story of ‘I Am Henry’ is quite brilliant (in the truest sense of the word); it’s easily one of the best stories in a short film I have seen for a very long time.” Obviously, this gave me the confidence that I was on the right track with the subject.
The challenges of ‘production’
Massimo and I then started to work on the production of the film itself. The first person who came on board was the very talented cinematographer Simon Rowling. He suggested that we film a couple of the scenes in the massive crypt underneath St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Paddington, north London. We ended up filming the entire film on location at the church, as it had everything we were looking for. The crypt with its Gothic architecture and beautiful stained glass windows was used in the film ‘Les Misérables.’
Costumes are expensive. Even so, we were committed to be historically accurate, and were very lucky with Kristen Ernst Brown, our costume designer. She won Best Costume for I Am Henry, and succeeded without a lot of money to create a beautiful and authentic look, using black and gold as her main colour palette. This complemented the cinematography by Simon Rowling, which was inspired by Rembrandt, the great Dutch master painter.
The film won many awards which encouraged us to write the novel
In the UK we are fortunate with so many accomplished actors. The cast was absolutely phenomenal. Especially Fleur Keith as Anne Boleyn and Maria de Lima as Catherine of Aragon, but also Sebastian Street as Henry VIII.
‘I am Henry’ went on to win many awards ( in every category) including a Gold Remi, and received great reviews. The longest and one of our most favourite one is from Claire Ridgeway from the Anne Boleyn Files: https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/i-am-henry-review/
Thousands of viewers have enjoyed the film, which encouraged us to write the novel. The film is still available on Amazon Prime.
‘I am Henry‘ is an innovative retelling of the story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Due for release in paperback and e-book format by MadeGlobal Publishing, in April 2023. For more information about the novel and the short film go to linktr.ee/iamhenryfilmandnovel
Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.
Coming 30 May 2023!
King John’s Right-Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye is now available for pre-order as a hardback and Kindle from Pen & Sword Books, bookshop.org and Amazon (UK and US).
In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215.
A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US, and Bookshop.org.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, Amazon, and Bookshop.org.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, and Bookshop.org.
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, and Bookshop.org.
Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.
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©2023 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS